Cyber City Oedo 808

By the year 2808, the old city of Tokyo has morphed into the sprawling mega-megalopolis of Oedo (“Great Edo”), where crime is rampant and the insulated elites live on the upper levels of enormous “space-scraper” buildings. To combat the rise in crime, especially crimes related to data theft and illegal bio-engineering, the Chief of the Oedo police, Hasegawa, creates the Cyber Police unit. This unit, however, is staffed not by regular police officers, but – in a return to the Edo-period hōnen system – by criminals with a history of cyber- and bio-crimes, who are used as “hunting dogs” to track down and arrest their former accomplices. The up-side: for every case they solve, they get time deducted from their lengthy prison sentences. The down-side: should they fail in their missions, they will be executed by means of the explosive collars they are forced to wear around their necks. Sengoku, Goggles, and Benten are all hardened criminals sentenced to centuries-long imprisonment in penal satellites in Earth orbit: summoned by Hasegawa, they agree to join the Cyber Police unit, trading a taste of freedom for the mobile imprisonment of the explosive collars. But the crimes they are required to solve involve more than just mere criminality: beneath the surface of each case lurk the hidden motives of status envy, political manoeuvring, and the deforming of human identity through technology. Armed with the jitte, the traditional weapon of the old Edo police, the three crims-turned-cops are forced to confront themselves and their pasts by the crimes they investigate, even as they struggle to liberate themselves from the agendas others seek to impose upon them. And in the shadows surrounding every case stands the sinister, manipulative figure of Chief Hasegawa, ready to detonate their explosive collars at the slightest provocation…    

An original video animation produced by studio Madhouse and directed by Yoshiaka Kawajiri (Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust), Cyber City Oedo 808 originally aired on Japanese television in three instalments between June 1990 and October 1991. Animated in the classical hand-drawn style of the period with the accompanying dark colour palette that was also typical of the time for sci-fi/dark fantasy anime, Cyber City’s visual aesthetics and synthesized soundtrack will appear decidedly old-fashioned to a modern audience – not least because some of the technological references are markedly out of date. However, any perceived shortfalls in the production are more than compensated for by the narrative, with each episode focusing on one of the three main characters within an overall ensemble approach. Here, the neo-noir atmospherics and pathos-laden storylines help flesh out and humanise what might otherwise be stock character types; likewise, it also enables the cyberpunk setting to do what the genre does best: explore the human reality and consequences of high technology. It is, perhaps, a pity that a fourth episode was never produced, one that might have brought to a culmination the implied pending conflict between the three main characters and Chief Hasegawa; nonetheless, the tension created by this dynamic – sometimes illustrated through conflicts between Sengoku, Goggles and Benten – adds an additional layer of atmospheric density. Noted for the strong strobing effects that make this series potentially dangerous to anyone at risk from photosensitive epilepsy, Cyber City Oedo 808 was part of the late 80s-early 90s revival of interest in anime in the West, and stands as both parent to series like Cowboy Bebop and Ghost In The Shell, and grandparent to 2022’s Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.

Text Copyright © Brendan E Byrne 2022. All rights reserved.